I answered the phone a few weeks ago and my friend was sobbing on the other end. He was calling in outrage and grief at the suicide of a young man in Houston whose photo became one of the faces of those gay young people bullied into suicide. This young man's story was a lot like his own, growing up in homophobic middle America in a religion that made him think he was worthless as a gay young man.
We talked about the recent General Conference address of Boyd K. Packer, President of the Mormon Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the affect he thought those hateful words would have on his clients.
Lest we forget - Packer called same-sex attraction 'impure and immoral,' claiming that it can be corrected and characterizing same-sex marriage as immoral. His talk was watched by 13,000,000 members of the church, and although corrected somewhat in the written record, there were millions in the worldwide satellite broadcast who could watch him as he spoke them. They have a visual that will never be erased. It is a form of bullying from the pulpit, and especially in the Mormon Church, his words are taken as if God himself spoke them. Each of the Apostles in the 15-member governing councils of the Church are sustained as "prophets, seers, and revelators." He is next in line to be the Prophet to all the world.
My friend is a psychotherapist for the deaf and hard of hearing and has up close and personal relationships with many Mormons as clients. He deals regularly with those who are tempted to suicide and believes hateful words from religious leaders contribute to Arizona's high rate of suicide, 16/100,000. Utah's is 34/100,000 at three times the national average of 11/100,000 and is famous as the stronghold of the Mormon Church.
What is different there that is killing so many people? The church tells its gay members it loves them, but they must remain celibate all their lives, cannot hold hands or appear homosexual in public, may not kiss a member of the opposite sex - unless, of course, they want to lose everything - their families and the whole culture of the church. Draw your own conclusions.
My friend said, comparing the Mormon Church to his own growing up, "Having been raised in the United Pentecostal Church, my life was saved by a woman who gave me a book titled But Lord They're Gay. In that book I learned that there was hope and that not everyone hated me."
We decided then and there that we needed to help put together a coalition to tell the estimated 40,000-60,000 gay Mormons in Arizona that there is help and that there are lot of people to love and support them so that they don't have to contemplate suicide and that not everyone hates them because they are gay. My coming out experience at the age of 62 was traumatic and led many times to thoughts of despair. I don't want that to have to happen to anyone else.
That is the purpose of this 'Mormon Action.' We want to save lives.
We are inviting everyone who can to join us on Friday, November 26th, from 6 - 10 p.m. at Pioneer Park in Mesa, Arizona, to hand out business cards at every entrance to the temple grounds with information about The Trevor Project and Affirmation - Gay and Lesbian Mormons. With 20,000 people expected to view the Christmas Lighting ceremony, we need an army to greet them with love and a message of hope for their gay members.
We're hoping to find a sponsor for a bus to transport participants from the terminus of the Phoenix Metro light rail line to Pioneer Park and back after the event. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the nation with a large gay population that lives in the light rail service area.
I'll have more information as we get closer to the event. The City of Mesa had to bump our request for a Special Event Permit up to the City Manager, who is Mormon (so is the Mayor!) and so we'll now have to provide $1,000,000 in liability insurance to protect the City from what may happen when so many gays get together in a demonstration against suicide. You'd think they'd open their arms, but it is the Mormon stronghold in our area, and it is the Temple, a place where only worthy heterosexual members of the Church can be married for all time and eternity and at that time rule as gods and populate their own world and worlds to come. (BTW, I learned that the Mormon Bar Association in Mesa has invited Maggie Gallagher to speak! More on that in a later post.)
A lot is at stake on both sides, I guess. One is the very lives of its members, and the other the very doctrine that supports the tithing efforts of the church (you must be a full tithe payer to get in the temple) and its whole future as a viable, family-centered religion. Hmmm....
Do what you can to make this a blogosphere event and put it our far and wide on social media. With what has happened in the election, we have got to put more pressure on in many areas so that everyone knows we are queer and we're here to stay. We are good for the country.